Plaster in the decorative arts was made popular in the early 20th century, when the likes of Serge Roche, Jean Michel Frank, and the Giacometti’s began to produce a number of functional home furnishings with the material for their patrons. The elastic quality and sculptural effects produced by plaster are tactile and artful.
On an ongoing quest to see what modern-day craftsmen are up to, CJ Dellatore and I headed out to the wilds of downtown Brooklyn (where there is no shortage of creativity these days) to visit with plaster artisan Stephen Antonson. I first became enamored of Stephen’s pieces when I saw them in the Dessin Fournir showroom in Manhattan months ago, and wanted to learn about his creative process, and learn how he manufactures his creations.
In his ground level atelier we were witness to the magical experience of how he works. Clad in appropriately speckled clothes and a vivacious personality, he showed us what’s involved in making his version of functional sculpture.
Firepod, a custom piece commissioned by 2 Michaels Design
After some pleasantries, a strong cup of coffee, and a thorough tour of his workspace I had a number of questions I was eager to ask. Here’s an excerpt of our chat;
Can you tell me a little about your background, and how it is that you became interested in working in plaster?
I studied painting and sculpture at Carnegie Mellon University and in Lacoste, France, and have exhibited in both mediums over the years. Working with plaster is really just a way to combine the two—it’s both sculptural and painterly. I literally paint the plaster on with a brush. I was doing a project several years back and was introduced to Tom Donahue, a master plaster artisan. He shared his passion and knowledge with me and I was hooked. I’m grateful to him.
Are you inspired by other artisans? and how do you think you have contributed to the medium?
I am always looking at and talking about other work — both of artists long gone and of those working today. New York is a great place to be making art right now, there’s some very good work around. One of my favorite ways to engage with other artists and designers is at the archery nights BBDW founder Tyler Hays has organized at his SoHo showroom. They’re terrific.
Of course, I pay very close attention to what others, primarily the French, are doing and have done with plaster. The material has been around for thousands of years, so there’s a history behind it that was essential to know as I was figuring out what and how I would contribute to the medium. One thing I am absolutely certain of is that there are endless possibilities.
How does one get to work with you and where can they find your products?
My work is represented exclusively by Dessin Fournir in New York and Chicago, and by Jasper in Los Angeles. I also do a lot of custom pieces and I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with designers. My website is a good place to get a sense of what I design and fabricate, but I am always open and love nothing more than creating something new.
Have you considered working in other materials? and if so which ones would you most likely consider applicable to your artistry?
I’ve recently begun to work in bronze, which is truly exciting. These pieces will be available through Dessin Fournir in the fall. I’ve worked with metal, glass and ceramics in the past – all of which I plan to further explore in the coming months and years.
Here is a short video of us in the atelier in which Stephen explains how he begins the creative process;
Stephen is a true artist – his work is erudite and complex. There are no shortcuts taken here; his pieces are not simply veneered with a slip of plaster, but are formed and molded with layer upon layer of plaster to create truly artistic products. Here are some of my favorite pieces from the current collection;
Be sure to note that you can commission custom pieces, in addition to buying his own designs (all of which he will gladly customize to your specifications) through the Dessin Fournir (New York and Chicago) and Jasper (LA) showrooms.
To know Stephen Antonson as I now do is to comprehend how a true artisan works to create special and unique furnishings that become classics the moment they leave his atelier. Take the time to see his work in person and you will surely agree.
Written by Carl Lana